Whether it’s a tiny little cottage or a 25,000-square-foot estate, Monique Lafia—one half of the Lafia/Arvin design firm—understands how to make a house a home. Born in Philadelphia and raised in Miami, Lafia came west to delve into her passion for the arts. After obtaining her design degree from UCLA, she spent nine years working with leading L.A. designers like Waldo Fernandez, Cheryl Rowley and Hendrix/Allardyce. In 1997, she launched her own firm and has since become one of the county’s most sought-after designers. When not at the office or working on site with clients, she can be found painting, playing piano, or on the tennis court. We sat down with the busy mother of twins to find out more about what makes her tick.
What is your design aesthetic? Timeless, inviting and detail oriented. I like to layer rich colors, textures and fabrics in every project. It’s always comprehensive design to fit each client’s unique lifestyle.
How did you get started in the business? I had the privilege working for Waldo Fernandez while finishing design school at UCLA. You can study in school but that kind of experience is just invaluable. I worked on the Beverly Hilton, as well as hotels in Atlantic City and the Bahamas—it taught me how many layers are involved in hospitality design (even down to uniforms and signage), and so much about the financial and paperwork side of the business. I got to work with a lot of celebrity clients too. It was just incredible to be exposed to so much when I was so new!
Where do you derive your design inspiration? I started traveling to Europe years ago and loved visiting flea markets. If I was walking or on the bus and saw something that looked interesting, I’d go take a look. I ended up coming home with paintings, velvets, tassel trims, wrought iron— and lots of pottery from Sienna, Italy. All the different regions in Italy have their own pottery origins and history. It’s incredible, all the colors! It was terrific—I’d load up my suitcase with my finds and send my clothes home in a duffel bag. I began to notice that when I’d get back, my eye was much more sophisticated. I also find inspiration outside, hiking in Yosemite and Will Rogers State Park. Hawaii, too.
If you could reside on a Hollywood movie set from any era, what would it be? The Age of Innocence, the film adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel. I could watch it over and over again! The table setting… the silver, linens, crystal, candlesticks… why not bring those things out every day? I always tell my clients to bring out the good stuff and create a beautiful, succulent arrangement. The more you do, the greater confidence you have for entertaining. And really, we should all just enjoy something beautiful every day.
What do your clients like best about working with you? I spend a lot to time understanding my clients’ desires and lifestyle. My clients feel my excitement and passion for design and I love a “team” approach. Actress Courtney Thorne-Smith, whom I worked with on a recent project, told me it was exactly what she wanted and said, “Thank you for being amazing at what you do.”
What takes a kitchen or bath from ordinary to extraordinary? Appliances like La Cornue, Miele, Wolf and Sub-Zero. Natural stone counter tops such as Rosso Fiorentino and bamboo granite add character to the kitchen. Furniture toe kicks and molding details on cabinetry. Bathrooms with glass tiles, free standing tubs and exceptional lighting.
All images courtesy of the designer